[ d e e p P u r . p l e ) The Highway Star

New York Press enjoys a night out...

The movies have been miserable, but Summer 2001 is looking to be pretty great on the popular music front. When was the last time that so many great acts were topping the charts? If you aren't rocking out to Lifehouse or Train or Staind, then your grand vision of rock revolution must have been chart domination by wispy-voiced gals from Olympia, WA. Fortunately, your side was buried with Kurt Cobain.

Nu-Metal has given way to some inspired big rock, and it's a great time to be getting down with the general populace. It's always smart to ditch the underground and celebrate summer with everyone else in that major traffic jam of the all-American zeitgeist. That said, there's nothing cool about the crowd here at the big Lynyrd Skynyrd/Deep Purple/Ted Nugent triple bill. Nor was there anything cool about these folks back in 1974 or 1977 or any other time when these acts were ever topping the charts. And they sure haven't changed their looks since those glory days. The parking lot is crawling with mullets and bellies and dopey tattoos and skin that proudly boasts of a pockmarked adolescence. The men are even less attractive.

This whole white-trash sleaze look may seem pretty dashing when it's paired with a $300 cowboy hat for a night out at Don Hill's. When you're out among the people who sport that look every day, it's just depressing. Hey, the best rock 'n' roll is often enjoyed by lumpen morons. That doesn't mean that we have to pretend that it's really cool to be hanging out with a crowd displaced from the Mall of America. But then there's the very real thrill of hearing "Cat Scratch Fever" revving up as we head into the Jones Beach Amphitheater.

Just because Ted Nugent was never particularly cool doesn't mean he was never great. Some of us still think that "Little Miss Dangerous" could have turned him into a proper pop star. That album was recently reissued, but as we settle into our seats, it's clear that Nugent isn't too interested in pushing the new/old product. He's working with a simple power trio, and vamping away like a true crowd-pleaser. It's not even 7 p.m., so the crowd is still wandering in from their jobs at the local clothing stores and auto parts shops. Nugent gives them all a fine welcome, and throws in a Flag Day salute to the U.S. Army. Everybody joins in, without a single giant puppetmaker offering an opposing viewpoint. Maybe these are my kind of people, after all.

Nugent's set is short and it ends right on schedule. Jones Beach shows always run tight. Every concert is guaranteed to wrap up close to 11 p.m., so the crowd can get home to the babysitter. Or, in this case, so the crowd can let their kids out of the bathroom where they locked them up. Nugent's probably making good money off of this glorified cameo appearance. In fact, all three of these aging acts must be doing well. How many $40 t-shirts have to be sold to call it a successful evening?

There are a few pretty rock'n'roll girls on the scene, all of whom were born about the time that Deep Purple recorded "Perfect Strangers". Strangely, they still seem excited when the guys make it onto the stage. It must be weird to start out as a blues-playing teen in 1967 and end up as an aging rock star playing to a crowd now at about two-thirds capacity. The band looks like your average bunch of guys who own their own pool-cleaning business. But Ian Gillan's voice still sounds fine, and the band recorded at least 90 minutes of truly great rock songs over the years. "Woman From Tokyo" resounds as an opening number, but as the band tears through a pretty interesting mix of songs, things quickly tilt into Spinal Tap territory. "When A Blind Man Cries" is a particularly painful moment, as is Gillan's occasional stilted stage patter. They close the set with a strong pairing of "Perfect Strangers" and "Smoke On The Water" (the latter preceded by a clever collection of classic guitar riffs from other bands). The encore of "Hush" and "Highway Star" is equally well-chosen, but things are getting a little weird. I'm reminded of a creepy Night Gallery that had Pat Boone visiting a military academy of strangely wizened students. More than once, I see what appears to be a runty little kid, only to have him turn around and reveal the ravaged face of a fiftysomething alcoholic.

If you asked me beforehand, I would have told you that this evening's billing was probably interchangeable. As the tension builds, though, it's apparent that there's still a serious Lynyrd Skynyrd crowd waiting to be appeased. The amphitheater is now at capacity, and there's definitely a sense of excitement. Johnny Van Zant is smart enough to catch the crowd's heart as he hits the stage, shouting out, "Hello, Long Island!" instead of the more delusional "Hello, New York!" It's another decent lineup for a long-dead band, with the token Van Zant backed by Gary Rossington and two ringers brought in from the remains of the Outlaws and Blackfoot. That bass player looks like he'd much rather be touring with Korn, though. Skynyrd does a pretty good job of tearing through the old catalog, opening with "Working for MCA" and keeping up the momentum. But the only song not performed by the end of the set is "Freebird." Do you think there might be an encore? Well, they don't play the final note until 11:14. That's pretty edgy by Jones Beach standards.

New York Press, Volume 14, Issue 25

J.R. Taylor[no email]

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